European Leaders Pay Surprise Visit to Libya to Push for Peace
International actors are working to promote peace in the war-torn country, but there’s still a long way to go.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: European leaders met with Libyan officials to discuss a peaceful resolution to the country’s civil war, Saudi Arabia cracks down on more members of the royal family, and Chinese and Indian commanders hold talks over recent border tensions.
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Peace in Libya Remains Elusive
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell paid a surprise visit to Libya on Tuesday to help boost peace efforts as the country’s warring factions continue to search for a way out of the war. Di Maio and Borrell each met with Fayez Serraj, chief of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) based in the capital of Tripoli, to discuss the current military situation. Di Maio later met with Aguila Saleh, speaker of the House of Representatives based in eastern Libya’s Tobruk, who partially backs the Libyan National Army’s (LNA) Khalifa Haftar.
Calls for peace have grown in recent weeks as the GNA’s military position has improved. Its defeat of Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take Tripoli consolidated its hold on the capital, pushing the focus of the fighting out to the coastal city of Sirte.
Cautious hope. But the fighting in Sirte has ground into a stalemate, and international actors have since lobbied Libya’s rival factions to enter into negotiations. On Aug. 21, both Serraj and Saleh declared ceasefires across all of Libya, raising hope for a longer-term solution but leaving serious doubt over whether it could actually be implemented. Haftar rejected the ceasefire outright, calling it a “deception” whose sole purpose was for “media marketing.” He accused the GNA of continuing to build up its military presence in Sirte.
Splits all around. Despite tentative efforts at a resolution, the future of Libya is murky. The GNA has been beset by internal feuding in recent days, raising doubts about its viability as a legitimate national government. Even if the GNA survives intact, it appears increasingly unlikely that Libya will survive as a single, unitary state. As Anas El Gomati wrote in Foreign Policy last month, Haftar’s international backers have largely given up on him, and the only option left for them if they want to retain their influence in the country is to push for partition.
What We’re Following Today
Saudi royal family crackdown. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sacked two princes and several military officials as part of a wider investigation into alleged corruption in the defense ministry. “Riyadh has sent a strong message in that accountability bodies will not tolerate those who are corrupt regardless of any considerations. And that Saudi Arabia’s fierce war against corruption is not a luxury, but rather a necessity for development and protecting public money,” a Saudi newspaper said in an editorial.
But the arrests appear to be part of a wider effort by Prince Mohammad to remove perceived threats to his power. Shortly after becoming crown prince in 2017, Mohammed detained more than 200 princes, officials, and businessmen on charges of corruption, but critics have argued it was an attempt to root out any lingering threats to his rule.
U.S. presidential candidates spar over violence. U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden traded blows over the recent violent protests in some American cities. Speaking in Pennsylvania, Biden accused Trump of using the violence as a “political lifeline” and said that he “can’t stop the violence because for years he has fomented it.” Trump hit back in an interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, pinning the blame for the unrest on Biden. “People that you’ve never heard of, people that are in the dark shadows” are controlling Biden, he claimed.
Last week, a 17-year-old pro-Trump vigilante shot and killed two people during protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, following the police shooting of Jacob Blake. A man affiliated with a right-wing group was also shot and killed by an unidentified assailant during clashes between protesters and counterprotesters on Saturday in Portland, Oregon.
Turkey stays in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has extended a research mission in the eastern Mediterranean, raising the heat again in an ongoing dispute with Greece which has fast become one of the region’s tensest hotspots. The extension of the mission, which had already drawn Greece’s ire, was announced by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a speech in which he also accused the European Union of engaging in “modern-day colonialism” for its involvement in the dispute.
Turkey and Greece have overlapping maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean, where large sources of oil and gas were recently discovered. Both countries have clashed over who has the right to extract resources from the area, and both have held parallel military exercises as a show of force.
Keep an Eye On
India and China in talks over border. Indian and Chinese commanders met for the second day of talks on Tuesday to seek to resolve the latest burst of tensions along their disputed border. Soldiers from both countries engaged in a verbal altercation over the weekend that local commanders deescalated before it turned physical, but it led to troop movements and accusations from both sides that the other was trying to illegally seize territory.
Tensions between the two countries have risen sharply in recent months. In June, violent clashes along the border resulted in the deaths of 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese soldiers. But as Foreign Policy’s Salvatore Babones wrote, the border dispute is part of a wider conflict taking place in the region, and China is actively pushing for the construction of a canal in Thailand to help encircle India.
Oil spill deaths in Mauritius. Two people were killed off the coast of Mauritius on Tuesday after their boat struck a barge in bad weather while assisting efforts to clean up a nearby oil spill. The spill happened after the MV Wakashio ran aground on a coral reef in late July, dumping much of its oil cargo into the surrounding waters. While early cleanup efforts did remove most of the spillage, locals are still working to remove the remaining oil.
The accident highlights the harmful impact of the oil spill on both people and the environment. Last weekend, thousands of protesters gathered in the Mauritian capital of Port Louis to rally against the government’s mishandling of the oil spill after 40 dead dolphins washed ashore.
Odds and Ends
The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo republished its controversial cartoon images of the Prophet Muhammad—which led to the deadly 2015 shootings by Islamist militants in Paris—to mark the beginning of the trial of the shooters’ alleged accomplices today. The attacks, which left 12 dead, led to an outpouring of grief for the magazine and helped spark an international debate over free speech.
Depicting the Prophet Muhammad in images of any kind is strictly prohibited by Islamic law, but Charlie Hebdo had long drawn controversy for its portrayals of religious figures. A few weeks before the attack, it published a drawing of a smiling baby Jesus exploding out of the Virgin Mary.
That’s it for today.